What is complete heart block?
Heart block refers to an abnormality in the way electricity passes through the normal electrical pathways of the heart. The abnormality “blocks” the electrical impulse from continuing through the normal pathways and usually results in a slower heart rate.
Complete heart block – sometimes called third degree AV heart block – is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that happens when the electrical impulses that tell your heart when to beat are delayed or blocked as they travel through your heart. Complete heart block is the most serious type of AV heart block. It happens when the electrical impulses that tell your heart when to beat don’t pass between the top and bottom chambers of your heart as they should.
How common is complete heart block?
Complete heart block can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of complete heart block?
The common symptoms of complete heart block are:
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Palpitations (skipping, fluttering or pounding in the chest)
- Chest pressure or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting spells
Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Left untreated, certain abnormal heart rhythms can cause death. On the other hand, some arrhythmias are common and not associated with any untoward conditions, so-called benign arrhythmias. One of the goals of evaluation is to sort out the serious from the benign forms of heart beat disturbances.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes complete heart block?
Complete heart block is caused by the aging process, medicines, heart attacks, infiltrative heart diseases (amyloidosis, sarcoidosis), and infectious diseases (endocarditis, Chagas disease). It may also occur after heart surgery and can be present from birth (congenital).
What increases my risk for complete heart block?
There are many risk factors for complete heart block, such as:
- Heart failure
- Prior heart attack
- Heart valve abnormalities
- Heart valve surgery
- Some medications or exposure to toxic substances
- Lyme disease
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is complete heart block diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that you may have an arrhythmia, he or she will order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine the source of your symptoms.
- Electrocardiogram — The electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records the heart’s electrical activity. Small patches called electrodes are placed on your chest, arms and legs, and are connected by wires to the ECG machine. Your heart’s electrical impulses are translated into a wavy line on a strip of moving paper, enabling doctors to determine the pattern of electrical current flow in the heart and to diagnose arrhythmias and heart damage.
- Holter Monitor — A holter monitor is a small, portable machine that you wear for 24 hours. It enables continuous recording of your ECG as you go about your daily activities. You will be asked to keep a diary log of your activities and symptoms. This monitor may detect arrhythmias that might not show up on a resting EKG that only records for a few seconds.
- Exercise Stress Test — The exercise stress (treadmill) test enables physicians to record your heart’s electrical activity which may not occur at rest.
- Event Recorder — An event recorder (loop recorder) is a small portable transtelephonic monitor that may be worn for several weeks. This type of recorder is good for patients who don’t experience symptoms very often. The monitor “loops” a two-minute recording into its memory that is continually overwritten. When you experience symptoms, you press a “record” button on the monitor which stores a correlating strip of EKG material. The recordings are telephoned to a 24-hour monitoring station and faxed directly to the requesting physician.
- Magnetic Source Imaging — Magnetic source imaging (MSI) is used as an overlay to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The device senses weak magnetic fields generated by heart muscle tissue and localizes the arrhythmia non-invasively to save time during the invasive study.
- Tilt Table Test — Tilt table testing is used to diagnose fainting or black-out spells (vasovagal syncope) by trying to reproduce the black-out episodes. You will be tilted upright to about 60 degrees on a special table for a period of time with continuous recording of your ECG and blood pressure.
- The Electrophysiology (EP) Study — The EP study allows doctors to acquire more accurate, detailed information and, in many cases, provide treatment (i.e. catheter ablation) during the same session.
How is complete heart block treated?
Depending on the type and severity of your arrhythmia, and the results of various tests including the electrophysiology study, there are several treatment options. You and your doctor will decide which one is right for you.
- Medications: Certain anti-arrhythmic drugs change the electrical signals in the heart and help prevent abnormal sites from starting irregular or rapid heart rhythms.
- Implantable Device (Pacemaker): All implantable devices or pacemakers work on “demand” and are used to treat slow heart rhythms. They are small devices that are implanted beneath the skin below the collarbone and connected to a pace wire(s) positioned inside the heart via a vein; this delivers a small electrical impulse to stimulate the heart to beat when it is going too slow.
- Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator: An implantable cardioverter defibrillator is a device for people who are prone to life-threatening rapid heart rhythms. It is slightly larger than a pacemaker and usually is implanted beneath the skin below the collarbone. It is connected to a defibrillation/pace wire(s) positioned inside the heart via a vein. It has the capability of delivering an electric shock to the heart when it determines the heart rate is too fast. It also is capable of pacing or stimulating the heart when it is going too slow.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage complete heart block?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with complete heart block:
- Avoid situations in which your pacemaker may be disrupted, such as being near an electrical device or devices with strong magnetic fields.
- Carry a card that lets people know what kind of pacemaker you have.
- Tell all of your healthcare providers that you have a pacemaker.
- Get routine pacemaker checks to make sure your device is working well
- Stay active, but avoid contact sports.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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- Heart Block. http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Heart-Diseases-Disorders/Heart-Block. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- Complete heart block. https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/abnormal-heart-rhythms/complete-heart-block.Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- Heart Block. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/te7144abc. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- complete heart block. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/complete_heart_block/. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
Review Date: June 16, 2017 | Last Modified: June 16, 2017